Why is Arianism heretical?
Of the many evils which plague the modern world, one is the collapse of religious knowledge. The loss of knowledge produced by ancient Christians has allowed many forgotten heresies to return tot he modern world. And their resurgence has ruined the ability for Christians to live properly.
So it is needful for someone to clearly address these heresies and restate the truth that has been discarded.
Now, I think I should address Arianism first. This is because Arius is one of the more famous heretics, and his teachings are soundly refuted.
Arianism is heretical because it denies the eternal existence of Christ. Arius taught that Jesus was created by the Father and that there was a time when the Son did not exist. This would mean that Christ was not fully god and that He was merely a member of a higher god’s creation.
So Arianism is heretical because it degrades Christ to the level of a created being as the son of God the Father. This is similar to how Hercules was the son of Zeus.
And this heresy was popular among the ancient pagans because it perverted Christian teaching to be more amenable to the pagan worldview. This popularity made it a formidable opponent to the early Christians, and they spent a great amount of time fighting against it.
Among the more noteworthy of these Christians was St. Ambrose of Milan. He wrote a large work articulating proper Christian theology in opposition to the Arian heresy, and you will find a portion of this monumental work, along with commentary, presented below.
St. Ambrose’s Exposition of the Christian Faith (Why Arianism is Heretical)
St. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan during the latter part of the fourth century. This time in church history was characterized by the massive influence exerted by Arianism shortly after its founder’s death. So most of the bishop’s noteworthy efforts concerned his struggles against the Arian heresy.
Ambrose’s Exposition of the Christian Faith is his most influential work.
Book 1: Chapter 1
By the time St. Ambrose had risen to prominence, Arius had already been dead for several years. His followers, however, were enjoying a surge in popularity. This is often the case for cults with charismatic leaders.
When such a leader dies, he proceeds to take on a legendary status. Therein, his faults are forgotten and his virtues are exaggerated. The followers then look at their false idol and see themselves as the missionaries of their founder’s teachings. This compels them to spread outwardly with greater vigor than before.
Moreover, without the leader to keep them in line, zealotry begins to thrive among them. The group becomes both aggressive and indiscriminate. The immediate result is a temporary surge in power and rapid expansion; but the effect in the long run it to leave the cult disorganized and with many enemies set against it.
The Leading Factions of the Time
The author distinguishes the faith from the errors of Pagans, Jews, and Heretics, and after explaining the significance of the names God and Lord, shows clearly the difference of Persons in Unity of Essence.
If a thing is to exist, then it must have clearly defined boundaries. If it does not, then the unbounded thing begins to mix with others and become something new. Through this process, the unbounded thing loses its original identity and becomes a new thing with a boundary.
If those forms with which the unbounded thing mixes have boundaries themselves, then that which enters becomes part of what absorbs it. The unbounded thing becomes trapped within the bounds of what it entered. And if those other things do not have boundaries, then the two combine to produce something new.
Hence why it is necessary to define a religion by the boundaries which set itself apart from other faiths. A religion without bounds will always fluctuate, change, and, eventually, contradict itself. At the moment when the boundless religion contradicts itself, it refutes itself and can no longer claim to be the true faith.
The Gist of Arius’ Teachings
In dividing the Essence, the Arians not only bring in the doctrine of three Gods, but even overthrow the dominion of the Trinity.
Ironically, the Christians faced accusations of both atheism and polytheism for their views of God and the Trinity. The pagans accused them of atheism for not worshipping their gods. Then the Jews accused them of polytheism for their belief in the Trinity.
Later on, Muslims would struggle with the proper way to classify Christians. They settled on placing them in a category of their own.
The Orthodox View of the Trinity
Now this is the declaration of our Faith, that we say that God is One, neither dividing His Son from Him, as do the heathen, nor denying, with the Jews, that He was begotten of the Father before all worlds, and afterwards born of the Virgin.
The saint begins his defense of the faith by clearly stating what the Christian believes. In doing so he addresses the claims made against them by the Jews.
It is often the case that one may refute lies told against himself by clearly stating his beliefs in calm manner. However, most people who have accusations lobbed against them are so flustered and defensive that they do not bother to do this; that is, to defend themselves properly.
Instead, they have angry emotional reactions against their accusers, and this leads them to bungle their defense.
Separate from the Heretics
Nor yet, like Sabellius, confounding the Father with the Word, and so maintaining that Father and Son are one and the same Person; nor again, as does Photinus, holding that the Son first came into existence in the Virgin’s womb.
When a teaching is perverted, a precedent for perverting the teaching is set. So when one heresy is allowed to flourish, many others follow. This is one of the reasons why each heresy is to be loathed. Every one serves as a font from which others will soon appear.
Yet the heretics lack the vision to realize this.
Arianism as a Form of Polytheism
Nor believing, with Arius, in a number of diverse Powers, and so, like the benighted heathen, making out more than one God.
The Arians believed that Jesus was a god. They also believed that the Father was a god. And they believed that the Father created Jesus. This forced them to become polytheists who treated the relationship between the Father and the Son as the same sort of tie that Zeus had with Hercules.
Tag: Why Arianism Is Heretical
What Is Written: The Names of God
For it is written: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God is one God.”
For God and Lord is a name of majesty, a name of power, even as God Himself says: “The Lord is My name, and as in another place the prophet declares: The Lord Almighty is His name.”
God is He, therefore, and Lord, either because His rule is over all, or because He beholds all things, and is feared by all, without difference.
If, then, God is One, one is the name, one is the power, of the Trinity.
God names Himself and describes His attributes throughout the Old Testament. These descriptions He permits for Himself exclude the possibility that multiple gods could exist. And Christians are expected to hold that Christ is God. Therefore, the Father and the Son must be one.
What Christ Said
Christ Himself, indeed, says: “Go, baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the name, mark you, not in the names.
Moreover, Christ Himself says: “I and the Father are One.”
Here we encounter an awkward problem that most of the early Christian defenses of the Trinity show. This problem persists even into the modern age.
The problem is that their defense of the Trinity always takes the following form:
“Scripture tells us that there is only one God, and it indicates that the Father and Son are one.”
Yet arguments of this form do not support the Trinity.
This is because they do not account for the placement of the Holy Spirit.
So those of us who grasp the argument and accept it are then left with the question, “Why three and not two?”
“I and the Father are One.”
One, said He, that there be no separation of power and nature; but again, We are, that you may recognize Father and Son, forasmuch as the perfect Father is believed to have begotten the perfect Son, and the Father and the Son are One, not by confusion of Person, but by unity of nature.
The more competent Christians state that the Father and the Son are two persons with one nature. Yet they tend not to define what they mean by person and what they mean by nature.
And when theologians use these words, they do not possess the same meaning that they have when the layperson uses them.
It is for this reason that a clear description of what nature and person mean should always accompany descriptions of the Trinity.
The Oneness of God
We say, then, that there is one God, not two or three Gods, this being the error into which the impious heresy of the Arians does run with its blasphemies.
Many Protestant sects have degenerated into universalist churches. They accept anyone and everyone from all creeds, and they pretend this is the morally upright action because it is done in the names of diversity and tolerance.
It is certainly not done in the name of Christ!
This is one fo the reason why these Protestants should not be called Christians. When they are given the choice between Christ and diversity, they choose diversity.
Tag: Why Arianism Is Heretical
The Arians and Jesus
For it says that there are three Gods, in that it divides the Godhead of the Trinity; whereas the Lord, in saying, “Go, baptize the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” has shown that the Trinity is of one power.
I cannot help but wonder if this statement of Christ’s is the only evidence suggesting that the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity. It is the only verse in the Bible which I can remember supporting the claim, and it is the one to which the early Christians always refer.
Yet I can see at least one interpretation of this commandment which would separate the Holy Spirit from the Godhead.
I won’t say that it’s right, but I wish I could see stronger evidence in favor of the Trinitarian view.
The Unity of the Christian God
We confess Father, Son, and Spirit, understanding in a perfect Trinity both fullness of Divinity and unity of power.
“Every kingdom divided against itself shall quickly be overthrown,” says the Lord. Now the kingdom of the Trinity is not divided.
If, therefore, it is not divided, it is one; for that which is not one is divided.
A common theme within pagan mythos is for the gods to produce children of their own. These children often finds themselves at odds with the god who spawned them. This is usually because the god has one plan for the child, and the child has another plan for his own life.
So it is necessary that the Father and the Son are one. If they are not, then they find themselves at odds with one another because of their ability to choose and to pursue different goals.
Tag: Why Arianism Is Heretical
The True Danger of Arianism
The Arians, however, would have the kingdom of the Trinity to be such as may easily be overthrown, by division against itself.
But truly, seeing that it cannot be overthrown, it is plainly undivided.
For no unity is divided or rent asunder, and therefore neither age nor corruption has any power over it.
The teachings Arius and his followers espoused likened the relationship between the Father and Son to that of a pagan god and that god’s progeny. This had the effect of reducing Christianity to another form of paganism.
And if this view had been the standard among Christians, then the religion would have been lost within the morass of Germanic, Roman, Greek, and other religious traditions.
However, this reduction fo the religion to a pagan faith was convenient for the Arians at the time when they were spreading their teaching. This is because the old world was still mostly filled with pagans, and the Arians were teaching a view which was more similar to that of the pagans than what the Christian held.
But this reduction fo the religion to “just another pagan view” would have destroyed the Christians’ ability to distinguish themselves from the pagans and, therefore, ruin any authority they had to assert that Christianity was the true religion.
In other words, the Arians tried to destroy the uniqueness of Christianity in order to gain converts.
A lesson the Protestants would do well to learn!
Tag: Why Arianism Is Heretical